An al-Qaeda branch in northwest Syria has confirmed that a USÂ drone strike earlier this month killed one of the groupâ€™s most senior leaders, a veteran Jordanian jihadiÂ who hadÂ been the brother-in-law ofÂ Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Huras al-Din, an al-Qaeda branch in northwest Syria, released a statement Wednesday saying that Khaled al-Aruri, also known as Abul Qassam al-Urduni, was killed as a result of a US strike on a vehicleÂ he was inÂ earlier this month in Idlib province.
Aruri was headed to a meeting of local militant leaders in order to form a military cooperation body, the statement read.
Video of the vehicleÂ appeared to show it had been struck with a non-explosive missile bearing long metal blades, possibly the RX9 Hellfire missile, which the US military and CIA have used in prior strikes to limit collateral damage. The United StatesÂ took credit for the strike last week.
Why it matters: The strike is one of Washingtonâ€™s latest assassinations of senior jihadiÂ leaders hiding out in an area of Syria controlled by Islamist rebels, some of whom are backed by Turkey.
Huras al-Dinâ€™s statement said Aruri was the groupâ€™s deputy emir for martyrdom, though others have suggested he may have been the groupâ€™s de facto leader. The veteran jihadiÂ fought in Afghanistan both before and after the Sept.Â 11, 2001, attacks, and fought against the US occupation of Iraq â€œfrom its first daysâ€ alongside Zarqawi, the statement read. ZarqawiÂ was killed in a 2006 US airstrike near Baquba, Iraq.
Last week, local reports said a senior Islamic State (IS) official who had been close to that groupâ€™s deceased leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was also killed in a drone strike northwest of theÂ Syrian city of al-Bab. A representative for US Central Command declined to comment on that strike. Baghdadi died during a US Delta Force raid on a house in northwest Syria in October.
Whatâ€™s next: Fighting broke out between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Huras al-Din earlier this week as rumors circulate in Idlib that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham may be leaking intelligence on the location of Huras al-Din leaders. Another Huras al-Din figure is believed to have been killed in a drone strike in Idlib on Wednesday.
US strikes on al-Qaeda and ISÂ figures in northwest Syria are unlikely to let up. The State Department on Wednesday doubled its reward to $10 million for information leading to the killing or capture of Amir Muhammad Saâ€™id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, whom the US government believes is ISâ€™Â current leader, publicly known by the name Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
Know more: Fehim Tastekin looks at Turkeyâ€™s perilous choices in Idlib province, including its commitment to Russia to get rid of hard-line groups.